Thursday, January 31, 2013

Do You Lead Like a Lioness?

Guest post by Great Leadership regular contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

So what do lionesses have to do with leadership lessons? One of my big loves in life, other than my husband, is travel. My husband and I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the world and one of our favorite places is Africa. We enjoy the wildlife and experiencing the vast cultures of the indigenous tribes.

During one of our recent trips to the Serengeti, we had the great fortune of observing a mother lioness with her three cubs. Did you know that a lioness has just two short years to prepare her cubs for independence? And on this day, she was in the process of teaching them how to hunt for lunch. As I watched the lioness interact with her cubs, I couldn’t help but think how she would make a great role model for leaders.

So what did she display with her cubs that made her such a great role model?

1.  Modeled Behavior-- She demonstrated to her family what was required to hunt. She lead her cubs towards the prey, at first running at a slow pace and then slowing down as she got closer.  Then she stopped and looked back as her cubs tried to mimic her behavior; some did better than others. And then she watched each one as they made the initial moves.

2. Showed Care--As her cubs moved forward towards the warthog, she never let her eyes leave her cubs. And if one decided to retreat, she didn’t prod them to advance back toward the prey, but stayed close to that cub while watching the others.

3. Identified Learning Opportunities-- She identified the hunting opportunity. The warthog was small enough to provide her cubs with another time to practice and hone their hunting skills. A larger animal, like a water buffalo, would not have been a good opportunity for her cubs to learn to hunt.

4. Mentored --she showed them the way and shared her knowledge and experience with the goal of having them get to the “next level” and become self-sufficient lions.

5.  Allowed Failure--In the end, the cubs were unable to successfully capture the warthog. Failures need to be embraced as another way of learning and they encourage the cubs to take risks, which will be necessary to live independently from their mother. In this case, they didn’t have lunch, which they won’t soon forget!

6. Recognized Potential-- One of the primary roles a leader has is to develop her team to their full potential. And on the plains of the Serengeti, eating and being aware of your surroundings are critical to survival.

As I review these, my thoughts lead to the leaders that I have had the opportunity to work with over the years. And, the most successful ones and the leaders that I had the most respect for displayed all of the behaviors and skills of a lioness.

Lessons in leadership can be found in the most unexpected places. And as an executive coach and leadership development advisor, I am always in search of leadership lessons. Whether it be on vacation in Africa, volunteering with a non- profit, observing young children at play, or enjoying a movie there are leadership lessons everywhere.

What leadership lesson have you learned recently that you can share with your team to help them better understand the dynamics of leadership?

Beth Armknecht Miller, of Atlanta, Georgia, is Founder and President of Executive Velocity, a leadership development advisory firm accelerating the leadership success of CEOs and business leaders. She is also a Vistage Chair and Executive Coach. She is certified in Myers Briggs and Hogan leadership assessment tools and is a Certified Managerial Coach by Kennesaw State University. Visit or or follow her on twitter at SrExecAdvisor.


Anonymous said...

you mistake capability to teach with capability to lead. It is completely ill taken example - a lioness-mother, hunter and survivor,strenght and knowledge, TEACHES her weak unexperienced babies. She does not LEAD them.

Dan Stoelb said...

Leadership Lessons From Dan "Buck" Brannaman- The "Horse Whisperer" by Dan Stoelb

There are many people, in many walks of life that we learn from. Many of our lessons are from unassuming people that we did not realize we were learning from. One such person is Buck Brannaman- the man who is known as the "Horse Whisperer".

I never met Buck in real life, although we both are from Sheboygan, Wisconsin. However, my life has been enriched from reading his books, seeing the movies made about him, the latest in 2011. The more I ponder Buck's approach to horse training I come to realize that it is more a philosophy that is about life, about people; about learning how to interact with others and learn to understand ourselves; our deepest fears and feelings. Buck would have made a great living as a psychologist if he had gone into that field.

More importantly, Buck has a lot that he can teach us about how to be a better leader. I will try to summarize:

1. People we lead are mirrors of those who lead them.
2. If a group of people are dysfunctional, look at the leader.
3. If people are afraid of change, new environment, new challenges, perhaps it is because of the way they were taught to react and learn in those type of situations, rather than what is inherently deficient in themselves. They became conditioned by the way they were nurtured.
4. Strength comes from a calm understanding and having lived through the trials that life presents to each one of us. Those that succeed do so because they learned from those trials, did not get defeated by their circumstances.
5. Genius is indeed often born out of hardship.
6. Using coercive power to try and change someone will only make that person more fearful and more resistant to what you want them to do or become.
7. Scarred people will respond in a positive manner to those they "feel" have their best interests at heart.
8. Gentle persuasion that comes from a deep understanding and empathy of what the other person has gone through and the way they are thinking is the first step in being able to help them change and become better.
9. Leadership is about helping people find their strengths and become what they were meant to be.
10. Buck learned from others who coached and mentored him. In turn, he is coaching and mentoring others. That is leadership in action, based upon caring about others and helping them to grow.
11.True Leadership is often a life of sacrifice, not one of luxury or indolence. Often, we have to sacrifice things that are important in our lives because we are driven to help others.
12. In the end, it is about caring, loving, and helping.

I hope one day to write a book with Buck on leadership. Until then, I feel privileged to have been exposed to this extraordinary man, who has taught me more about life and people, than about just about training horses as most people see him.

Thank you, Buck